Source: Xinhua | 2012-12-15 | ONLINE EDITION
EGYPTIAN people this morning went to polling booths to vote in the first stage of the referendum on a draft constitution, which has recently caused controversy in the country and led to bitter division between liberals and Islamists.
The voting, which began at 8:00 am local time (0600 GMT), is set to end at 7:00 pm (1700 GMT).
Ahamed Khader, a 76-year-old senior citizen voting at Cairo's suburb of Maadi, told Xinhua that "exercising the right of voting is a duty of every citizen," expressing the hope that the country would have a brighter future via this referendum.
Polling stations are surrounded by soldiers and policemen, as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has given the army the power to arrest civilians, calling them to help the police maintain the security of the referendum.
The referendum was planned to run in two stages, according to a republican decree issued by Morsi on Wednesday.
The first stage of the referendum will cover the governorates of Cairo, Alexandria, Daqahlya, Gharbeya, Sharqeya, Assiut, Souhag, Aswan, Southern and Northern Sinai, while the second phase will be held a week later in the rest of the country.
A member of a nongovernmental human rights organization, who named himself Ali, said while overseeing the voting that he was worried about potential confrontations during the voting process.
Ali said the current situation came more complicated than the parliamentarian and presidential elections which he had also taken part in supervising.
Morsi on Sunday issued a new constitutional declaration, annulling the previous one issued on Nov. 22 designed to expand the president's powers by making all his decrees issued since he came into office final and above judicial appeal.
The new constitutional declaration also ruled that if the new constitution was voted down in the referendum, the president would call for electing a new assembly through direct ballot to draft a new constitution. The new 100-member panel will be elected within three months after the announcement of referendum results.
But the new draft has not shaken the opposition. Fresh demonstrations held by Morsi's supporters and opponents raged recently in different districts in Cairo ahead of the disputed constitutional referendum.
Egypt's main opposition bloc, the National Salvation Front, announced Wednesday that they would take part in the referendum, but would say "No" to the draft constitution, despite their long- time calls for postponing the referendum.
Late in November, 85 members of the beleaguered Constituent Assembly approved the draft constitution after a 17-hour marathon vote. Morsi then called on Egyptians to cast their votes in the referendum.